A strong wind blew across the surface of the barren plains, throwing up loose sediment and adhering a loose layer to the front of his visor. The low atmosphere and high ferromagnetic makeup of the soil gave the wind-blown particulate a static charge that caused it to stick to almost everything, and they'd been having trouble keeping it out of the joints on their environment suits, the floors and portals to their airlocks, and the exposed bearings and gears on their vehicles. He wiped the particulate from his visor as he continued inspecting the atmospheric processing units on the side of the main habitat structure, prying more of the dust from the filters and checking that the power couplings were secure. Satisfied, he proceeded across the small camp of prefabricated buildings and photovoltaic concentrators when his commlink chimed.
“Sir, we found something.” It was the archaeologist, who was away surveying the bottom of one of the many craters that made up the plane. “And… well, it’ll be easier if you just come have a look.”
He hit the button on his suit that cut out the suit microphone and swore to himself. He’d never wanted the archaeologist to be part of the mission. The first survey was supposed to be that- cataloguing local geology, verifying satellite imagery, investigating the potential situation for future long-term missions. But there was always the optics to consider; the politics, of which he never wanted any part. The archaeologist was connected, some relation to someone on some committee somewhere. She fit the profile and image that the administration wanted to portray to keep generating interest in the program, and more critically, funding. He could accept all that, and so he hadn’t argued too hard about being saddled with what he felt was an extraneous crew member, but it didn’t mean he had to like it. This was probably his last lead assignment, and he had wanted everything to go by the numbers so he could settle into a well-earned retirement when they returned. There was only so much trouble an archaeologist could get into, or so he though, toggling his comm back on with irritation.
“Okay. I’ll be down.”
He checked the charge on one of the pair of buggy-like utility vehicles they’d brought with them, swiping a pile of accumulated dirt from the screen. The display showed a three-quarter charge; the low stellar density meant that the damn things took forever to come to a full battery. He’d told the engineer to switch over to pull power from the camp’s main generator, but it looked like that hadn’t happened yet. He mentally added it to his list of things to address at the crew meeting later in the shift, and pulled the high-amperage plug from the rear of the unit before climbing into the pilot’s chair and revving the engine to life.
The utility vehicle made decent speed but it still took a quarter of his shift to reach the lip of the crater and navigate the uneven terrain and unfamiliar gravity down into the basin. He pulled up alongside the other vehicle and deployed the small CPV unit mounted to the rear to recharge whatever small amount he could. Nearby, he saw the geologist standing next to a large grid demarcated with a serious of flags, studs, and wires indicating that spanned a fair distance across the he extent of the geological survey. The gird spanned a small portion of the crater basin but also followed the ridge wall along its incline back up to the plain above. The archaeologist was kneeling in a small depression in the ridgeline, about halfway up the marked area. He nodded to the geologist, who gestured him on; he couldn’t be sure due to the glare off their visor, but he could have sworn he saw a knowing look.
As he approached the archaeologist, she barely looked up, instead focused keenly on her find. He saw her brushing some kind of structure that jutted up from the center of the depression; the form was oddly shaped, very angular and artificial as compared to the broad, sweeping geometry of the basin around them. He crouched down beside his colleague. “What am I looking at?” he asked.
“It appears to be some kind of rover or drone,” the archaeologist explained.
“Many years of observation have told us this planet is barren,” he countered.
“It is,” the archaeologist agreed.
“I don’t think it’s native.”
He paused for a moment to consider the implication. “Then where did it come from?”
The archeologist slowly began to brush a layer of the ubiquitous dirt from the central body. As the dust parted, an image appeared; first, a kind of self-portrait in cartoon form, followed by a series of similar but smaller caricatures. She kept going and more symbols were revealed, including one he recalled from briefing documents. A rectangular shape, broken into colored stripes and a squared corner filled with nearly ordered shapes.
“Fuck me,” he said. “Does this mean what I think it means?”
The archaeologist hesitated. “I can’t be sure, but that’s the current hypothesis.”
He let out a long low whistle inside his suit that hissed feedback across the comms network. “I didn’t think they got this far.”
“No one did. The local orbit’s clogged with satellites and ejecta, sure, but they’re obviously not actively transmitting anymore.” She pushed a shovel into the ridge wall, loosening more of the rusty dirt and freeing a long arm from entombment. At the end was what appeared to be an optical array of sensors. “This is something else entirely.”
He reached down and moved a small amount of loose dirt, exposing a tattered and worn wheelbase. “How old do you think it is?”
“I don’t know yet. It’s got a radio-isotope generator of some kind. Doesn’t seem like it’s still terribly active, but I can get a count, and we can probably work back from that to get a rough estimate.” She paused, looking up into the sky as the star began to fade over the ridgeline into an early twilight, throwing long shadows across the crater basin. “This is a big deal, you know.”
“I’m sure,” he replied.
“Probably tell us a lot about them. Obviously I’m speculating but I’m guessing this is pretty advanced technology, maybe from right near the end.”
He frowned inside his visor. “Didn’t stop what happened. What they did to themselves.”
“You don’t seem excited.”
“How many of these worlds have we catalogued?” he asked.
She hesitated. “I don’t know… forty-three, I think?”
“This is my seventh. And most of them are just like this,” he said, gesturing across the crater. “Empty, barren.”
“But the others…”
“They all end up like them,” he said, pointing to the sky. “Gone. They were apparently just like us, at one point. Makes you wonder if it’s inevitable, for us, just as it was for them.”
3 notes · View notes
starter for @ofthemandalore
༄ -- To some, this might have been foolish. To Avyra, however, it was simply satisfying a curiosity. She really could never keep her nose out of trouble, no matter how hard she tried. It wasn’t pure stupidity, no, she knew what she was looking for was probably dangerous; it was more like a hunger, a desire to pry a mystery apart. It didn’t matter if she got hurt in the process so long as she found what she was seeking.
Nimbus chirped softly, fluffing out her feathers and shaking before burying her beak in her chest, picking at a particularly stubborn piece of down.
“You can preen later,” Avyra pointed out, giving the large bird a pat on the neck. “We’re working now, remember?” Nimbus glanced up slightly at the touch before returning to what she was doing, and Avyra sighed, raising her spyglass back to her eye.
The contraption she gazed at was weird. She’d never seen anything like it; a ship that almost seemed to fall from the sky itself. It was smoking quite a bit, but she hadn’t seen any activity.
Putting her spyglass away, she clicked softly with her mouth to Nimbus, causing her to look up again, but this time she continued forward, wings spreading as she glided down to the ship. She landed softly, and Avyra slid off, taking the reigns in her hand.
“Think there’s anyone in there?” Nimbus didn’t reply, of course, but she often found herself talking to the silver volucre. Avyra paused, then simply decided to shout. “Hey!”
4 notes · View notes